Wednesday, 7 June 2017


Even the limited number of Tory voters I know seem to agree Theresa May has been a terrible PM; perhaps one of her lesser crimes is forcing – *forcing* – me to write another bloody election blog.

I'm going to vote Labour again, even though there have been moments over the last year where I've assumed I wouldn't. But ultimately my biggest problems with Corbyn have been incompetence and lack of policies, and the Labour election campaign has been competent and policy filled, so there you go.

I think it's important not to forget the reasons why so many people who voted for him in 2015 lost faith; certainly it is patently bollocks to suggest he has been brilliant all along but we were all being manipulated by the media. Still, while a loss seems overwhelmingly likely, I think it would have to be fairly chunky for me not to feel he deserves the chance to see if he can bring his newfound competence to bear post-election. There are things he needs to address, from PMQs performances to purging the vocal anti-Semites amongst his supporters, but for a not terrible loss I'd probably give him the chance to have a crack.

That sounds a bit unromantic doesn't it? Part of it is that I'VE BEEN BURNED JEREMY, a lot of it is that virtually everyone I know has enthusiastically bigged up the manifesto so to do so again seems fairly pointless, whereas with Milliband I really did feel that I needed to warm up the room on some micro level.

There is also, of course, the fact that I can't really bring myself to get too excited this time, not because of Corbyn but because of various naggingly plausible articles suggesting the current polls are dangerously flattering to Labour. It is depressing to think an election campaign as dreadful as that waged by the Conservatives can still ultimately be successful. But it can and probably will. Still I try to be philosophical: Brexit will almost certainly be a total fucking disaster that'll probably bring down whoever is in charge. And maybe this will be whatever turns Labour into what it needs to be in the twenty first century, Things will get worse before they get better. But they will get better, Probbaly. So, um, yay. 

Friday, 20 January 2017


Hello! Sorry to divert you to my neglected blog, this just felt a bit niche for a Time Out blog and a bit long to just tweet out.

The Print Room’s production of In the Depths of Dead Love by Howard Barker – controversial for the reasons stated here – has obviously been quite an emotional experience for a lot of people. Some of them tweeted in response to our review, in which our writer Tim (a freelancer) said he didn’t think the play was racist, and clearly a lot of people has a problem with that statement, whether because they feel it is racist or because they feel Tim was looking for the wrong kind of racism, ie somebody said ‘nobody said the play was racist’, meaning it’s the non-casting of east Asian actors in a play notionally set in ancient China that's the problem, not the content of the play per se.

Anyway, I totally get people’s reasons for having a string reaction but don’t especially feel that I can really reply very meaningfully to people tweeting @TimeOutTheatre in response in the way I tend to do when my own reviews annoy people because I didn’t see the show. But I do hate it when corporate accounts just ignore an issue that people are complaining about, hence I have written this. If you want to try and talk to Tim about it on Twitter please do, but he doesn’t Tweet very much. Or alternatively, post a comment under the review, if that doesn’t feel too awful and corporate a suggestion.

Did I duck what should have been a personal responsibility by not going to see it? I think one of the maddening elements of the controversy around the show is that it’s not a piece of theatre that would have got much attention had there not been protests, because neither The Print Room nor Howard Barker are big deals in 2017. If I had gone out that night (I had to stay home to babysit as it happened) I'd surely have felt pretty good about instead seeing the brilliant The Convert, which was coincidentally having its press night just around the corner at The Gate, a much more significant theatre with a clear, positive commitment to diverse casting (The Convert has an all black cast).

(Whitey McEgo aside: The last thing I should probably do is wade into the actual controversy but whatever: from my own understanding of the play and the issues I’d probably disagree with Tim and say the most culpable party is surely Barker. My understanding of his intent with the play notionally being ‘set’ in ancient China is that it was a deliberate distancing device and that his assumption is that it would have a non-east Asian cast (it was staged on Radio 3 a couple of years ago with another all-white cast). To my mind there is clearly something orientalist about equating ‘Chinese’ with ‘distance’, even i Barker didn't give it a huge amount of thought.

But a major element of the protest has been about the play denying east Asian actors east Asian parts. Which is fair enough but if the playwright’s actual intent/expectation was that his characters living in ancient China with Chinese names wouldn’t be played by east Asian actors, then I am surprised more ire isn’t being directed at him (and it seems very apparent from today's Guardian interview with him that he has not been the victim of malicious casting directors). He is the one who has used the idea of the orient ‘other’ as a device. The Print Room went along with it, and while I think they probably made a mistake putting the play on at all, I’m a bit dubious about the implication underpinning aspects of the protest that the play would have been fine if it had had an east Asian cast – surely this would be at best a subversion of a dodgy play, at worse flattering the playwright. (There is something vaguely black comedy-ish about a protest for the right of actors to be cast in a bad, possibly racist Howard Barker play.)

I wonder if an element of the protest being directed so vehemently at The Print Room – which has admittedly dealt with the entire situation terribly – rather than Barker is more a general vocalisation of annoyance at the failure of British theatre to representatively cast E Asian actors, rather than because it is the most forensic way to protest this particular production. That's fair enough though: if a rubbish Howard Barker play can provide a springboard to a wider industry problem than the casting of one not-very-good fringe play, then that’s probably a step up on most rubbish Howard Barker plays.)

Saturday, 10 September 2016


There is no question that I should let this lie, and at the very least I've said most of what I need to say on the subject in an article I wrote for The Stage a while back, and the fact I haven't pitched this to anyone is a sign of how absolutely niche it is. But. I had mildly complicated feelings when some of the cool theatre twitter people who smoke at the back of the Twitter bus were bemoaning the National Theatre's capitulation in the matter of +1s after kind of banning them from their bigger theatres. Actually they weren't even that complicated, they essentially boiled down to WHY ARE THEY SAYING I'M A BAD PERSON I'M NOT A BAD PERSON AM I?

I mean firstly, I do think it's important to remember how shitly the NT went about introducing this policy – if they'd just written to everyone saying 'it's 2016 and there are changes being made in the interests of diversifying press night attendance' it would have been really hard to have any comeback, but instead they made a microscopic, unflagged up tweak to the small print of The Threepenny Opera press invite and confused a lot of people (is it really over-entitlement to think it's a bit rude to take away something nice you've offered for decades and not think to mention it? is it smart PR to totally cede the initiative to a bunch of perplexed oddballs by not explaining yourself?). I do think that rather than being the undoubtedly good policy it potentially sounds like on paper, it was a pretty woolly and arbitrary thing introduced by a new head of press who wanted to be Seen To Be Doing Stuff, and the confusing way it was introduced was indicative of an idea that didn't really come with a plan attached (the best answer they gave as to who they were planning to invite instead was 'people like BuzzFeed', which is fascinating, because while this is undoubtedly smart in future terms, it involves not accommodating more requests or engaging with diverse/minority voices, but persuading people who don't cover theatre that they should cover theatre).

Secondly I do take exception to any notion that the Theatre Critics' Circle aggressively forced some sort of climbdown. I mean, let me tell you one thing about the Theatre Critics' Circle: as far as I've ever been able to tell, it doesn't actually do anything apart from host a pretty good awards ceremony at the start of the year. An email was sent around informing people +1s had been scrapped after the NT failed to tell us, and we were asked what we thought about it (my reply in full: 'It's just a bit rude not telling us, you know, I don't automatically think I "deserve" a +1 but it's a nice perk and having it taken away from you without even thinking to mention it when it's been on offer since time immemorial is just a bit thoughtless from an organisation that most of us enjoy a good relationship with'). Then the NT held off on implementing it until the end of the summer as a sort of 'sorry guyz' thing, but as far as I can tell everybody was expecting it to be implemented in October and it had ceased to be much of a talking point. Clearly TCC head Mark Shenton was negotiating during this time and clearly he was 'successful', but nothing of whatever was going on was ever communicated to us and I can't imagine he possibly threatened them because what the fuck would you threaten the NT with? As far as I know he broke out his standard 'paid theatre critics are a dying breed, gissa break' thing and it was accepted and the NT said they're still going to manage to implement whatever they were going to implement anyway.

Should I feel guilty/unethical about taking a guest? I suppose ultimately this is the thing that got to me in terms of writing this lady-doth-protest-style post. There seemed to be some disagreement as to whether a +1 should ever be issued on the discussion, with some suggestion that paid critics shouldn't get one but unpaid should (which I could pick a million holes in but as I can't see the NT ever attempting this then I can't be arsed) and this absolute doozy

Ie 'use your +1 to make the world better, not to bring your mates'. Is it bad to think that's silly? It's not been offered to you as a sphinx-like moral conundrum or because in a fit of genuine insanity theatres have outsourced their outreach schemes to critics. It's been offered as A Nice Thing and perhaps even because of tradition, but surely not as some sort of Big Deal. There are major London theatres – notably the Donmar Warehouse and the Almeida – that never ever ever ever offer +1s to anyone, and clearly it has had no impact. So when I'm offered a seat for a 900-seat theatre (Lyttelton) or 1,200-seat theatre (Olivier) I just think it's fairly reasonable to think they're offering it because they can spare it, not in a desperate attempt to win my love.

Am I stopping a black teenager going each time I take a +1? It's an obviously very weird question: you could probably argue a yes and a no. Are my friends intrinsically undeserving? Maaaaaaybe? I dunno, I overwhelmingly go with one of four people: none of them are rich, three of them probably earn a bit more than the national average, one earns a lot less and is also black – should that matter? And finally there's the question of what I get out of it: I've long since lost the need to have somebody with me when I'm watching art, but essentially I have maintained close relationships with four of my best friends because I can take +1s to the theatre in a way I would have found very difficult otherwise because I have no evening social life outside of the professional because I have a baby.

None of this is 'important', and probably it's all just elaborate spin for my own awfulness, but at the moment I feel so weary about traducement of character being deployed as response to disagreement. Bleh.

Monday, 22 August 2016


I just voted for Owen Smith in the Labour leadership election and feel like I may as well blog about what might seem like a mildly controversial choice given that I have blogged about my completely uncontroversial previous choices to vote for Ed Miliband and Jeremy Corbyn last year and to remain in the EU this year.

The election is a pretty weird one, and I'll be absolutely frank that I consider my vote a 'protest' against Jeremy Corbyn rather than a resounding declaration of love for Owen Smith. This is not to say that I think Owen Smith would do a terrible job, but a) I think he has zero chance of winning and b) if he did I think he would probably be a better leader of the Labour Party by simple dint of not being Jeremy Corbyn and c) it seems to me that what some might call the personality cult around Corbyn and others might call outrage that anybody would challenge a popular mandate that means that the attacks on Smith's character are so inevitable as to be a bit difficult for me to really engage with. Is he a bit dodgy? I mean maybe, it's incredibly difficult to really say (the classic Corbyn supporter thing was when a bunch of them – and I'm just talking about 'some guys on social media' – turned on Billy Bragg as an out-of-touch champagne socialist when the Times reported that he'd made some disparaging remarks about Corbyn, then decided he wasn't when it turned out they'd been misreported) I don't think Smith wants to flog off the NHS any more than Corbyn wants to sell us out to Russia.

So I voted for Corbyn last year and still don't really have any regrets: Labour was in a bit of a quagmire and needed shaking up. Obviously it's a disaster now, but I can't help but feel this is a reckoning that needed to happen. I think Ed Miliband was far more leftwing than people give him credit for, but tonally he aimed everything at the 'squeezed middle'; I think what Corbyn's election has essentially done is remind Labour that it could really do with appealing to the actively disenfranchised too. I liked the fact he seemed to have a lot of policy ideas. He wasn't a great PMQs performer, but he made a good contrast with Cameron presentationally.

The main reason I went off Corbyn is that I am a believer in Ockham's Razor (and a disbeliever in elaborate conspiracy theories). MP after MP who resigned from his cabinet cited basic competence as their problem, issues of communication, clarity, ability to build and work as a team. Everything I've seen of his leadership would suggest this is probably true, and that he is an absolute nightmare as a boss (a boss of mine at Metro had an amazing set of principles that failed to have any bearing at all on the fact he was a bit awful). Maybe my perception of this is all filtered through a biased mainstream media lens etc etc. But I think it's fairly obvious that Corbyn is not classically 'brilliant' as a thinker or leader. His policies – which seemed to dry up after the election, until he was faced with another election, and started announcing some of the same policies again – are not exactly hard left. He is anti-Trident and takes a dim view of any form of military intervention whatsoever. That's fairly controversial, but that's pretty much all that's SERIOUSLY controversial. Accepting there are a small number of actual right wingers' in Labour, I don't think his MPs turned against him because they think he's too left wing. I think they did because he's just not very good at the things they say he's not very good at. I don't think he should be allowed a pass on grounds that he has a strong moral compass, or that he believes what I believe in. I think he should be good at his job, because being good at his job will make this country a better place. He simply hasn't grown into it. I don't think. Maybe I have been 'got' by the media.

A few other things that put me off

1. The EU campaign – he wasn't very good, but I think he did try in his own way. But I just thought there was a troubling lack of empathy – or pretence at empathy – at the devastation the majority of Labour voters felt at the result.

2. The Thanet by-election. I was really disturbed by the way he started throwing Labour's win in a small parish election with voter numbers in the triple figures as evidence of media bias and his own success. It just seems either deluded or – more likely – manipulative in a way I hand't really realised he was, a hunk of red meat to stoke up his supporters.

3. Pharma research. His announcement that medical research shouldn't be farmed out to private companies just seemed like a piece of game playing aimed at Smith, of a sort I thought Corbyn might be above. It's difficult to talk about the culture of anger etc around Corbyn, but I think he stokes it up in a way that he infers he does not.

4. The Corbyn emojis pushed me over the edge a bit, I don't really think we should have emojis of our politicians.

Anyway, this isn't an appeal to anybody to change their mind as I don't think it'll matter. Ultimately what will matter is Labour getting over itself and trying to pull together after Corbyn wins with a large majority. I think it will be very difficult if he makes no effort to be better at the things he has thus far appeared to not be very good at, but I live in hope that he starts grooming somebody more competent on the left like Clive Lewis as a successor.

In any case, if you've been arsed to read this far and haven't read this excellent article by his supporter Owen Jones about his misgivings then read it and we'll call it a day yeah.

Wednesday, 20 July 2016


I have lots of very boring and very complicated thoughts about Jeremy Corbyn and all that's come with his leadership, but that's possibly for another blog or if you're lucky not at all.

I just wanted to write something quickly about the pointlessness of the Labour leadership election.

In essence, I can't see that it's in any way possible for Jeremy Corbyn to possibly lose the Labour leadership election and it's daft to pretend otherwise.

To be totally honest, I should say that after happily voting for Corbyn last year, I don't think he's done a good job and I won't be voting for him again. But unless you just want to make a donation to Labour, I would say to anyone thinking of paying £25 to vote for him: DON'T BOTHER, there is no way he can lose. (By the same token I'm not sure if I'll end up being arsed to vote for Owen Smith unless he impresses me, simply because while I don't see he can be any worse than Corbyn at the ledershippy politicsy bit of the job, I don't really see any need to vote for him if I don't actively think he's good because I don't think Corbyn can possibly lose.)

The reason is pretty simple: despite all the grumbling from Corbyn diehards about the various exclusions and price increases being stacked against their man (I'd say an inaccurate but not in fact unreasonable stance to take), the fact is that with the support of the PLP being deemed unnecessary for a standing leader to get on the ballot, the rules are massively in favour of the incumbent.

The reason for that is pretty simple. Over the last year, a large number of people have joined Labour purely to support Corbyn. Corbyn has his own pressure group, Momentum, dedicated to keeping him in power. While I'm sure a number of people who voted for Corbyn after open-mindedly weighing up last year's candidates will go in open-mindedly again, I'm not sure anybody who joined purely to vote for Corbyn is ever going to be persuaded to vote for another candidate.

Obviously a lot of people are expressing disappointment that recent joiners to the party are unable to vote. But Corbyn attracted large numbers of people last year. Pre cut off, nobody was joining the party to support Owen Smith. And as for £25 vote registration, there's only about 24 hours for Smith to inspire people to sign up just to vote for him, while Momentum have been doing the groundwork for Corbyn voters for weeks.

There obviously has been a movement – #SavingLabour – to join Labour in order to 'take it back' from Corbyn supporters at the grassroots. But I find it incredibly hard to believe that 'not Corbyn' is anything like as strong a lure as an actual figurehead to rally behind (and anecdotally it seems that most of my friends who signed up to 'save Labour' became members post-EU vote, ie they can't vote in this contest).

So really, within the rules, you've got a large number of party members who wouldn't vote for anybody other than Corbyn, for whom the hustings process is a total formality, and a well-oiled machine dedicated to getting as many £25 sign ups for him as possible within a limited window. By contrast Smith has about a day to bring in newcomers, and after that the only people who are possibly going to vote for him are longer term members eligible to vote, who are still going in with an open mind. Possibly that is enough members that if Smith got a really good campaign on and Corbyn had a really bad summer and if they ALL voted against Corbyn with no £25 sign ups then Smith might win. But the odds are clearly ENORMOUSLY stacked in the favour of the guy with large numbers of partisans in the Labour ranks. And my title point is probably more aimed at friends who seem to be signing up because they feel Corbyn is getting stuffed by the new rules:

1) because there's such a limited window to sign up to vote for a given candidate, a £1000-a-vote system would still vastly favour a well-known incumbent with a big machine behind him because the challenger has almost no time to recruit voters

2) it may be that Corbyn nicks it on £25 votes, but I suppose my point is that – wishy washy a statement as this may seem – he's going to be so far ahead on £25 votes that he probably doesn't need YOUR £25 vote, ie it's not going to be at all close. If you disagree with me or think I am using the terrifying power of my blog to shaft Corbyn then obviously do sign up, I just don't think it'll make any difference at this stage.

3) bit of a tangential rant, but I've seen a lot of grumbling about the £3 to £25 increase being somehow antidemocratic. I should say that quite aside from the fact that the system favours Corbyn, and that it's the same NEC who voted to allow him on the ballot paper that voted for the price increase, then the idea that democracy is a thing you pay for one-shot instant access to is stupid, it's not Netflix. A truly democratic system would surely be to put it to national vote… otherwise anybody who thinks the paid entry system is anything but a daft gesture from Ed Milliband is being histrionic.

While I am a bit dismayed of his dismissal of the PLP, I don't mean any of this to blame Corbyn: he has benefitted from rules that weren't set up by him, but he was almost completely shafted by the rules re: nominations. I also doubt that a system that was 'fairer' to challengers by allowing a longer sign up time would actually even the odds much because you'd still only be talking about two months for a challenger to amass greater entryist support than the incumbent. Which I think is why none of the Labour big beasts have made a move – they know they'd be spattered by Corbyn and they know the best the opposition to him can really muster is a stalking horse candidate (it's probably also worth noting that despite the endless bleating about the MSM being against Corbyn, it would take a dementedly sycophantic pro-Smith campaign from every media outlet in the world to counter the strength of the pro-Corbyn voices on social media, blogs and, er, the MSM, especially in just two months).

So basically my point is that the idea this is really going to be a contest is pretty erroneous and the next two months are going to be effectively needlessly bruising. Maybe I will write another time about why I don't think Corbyn is very good, but I'm not really sure the internet needs it (it basically comes down to the fact he was shit over the EU, the fact he seems like a shit boss, and the fact that as far I can tell he's pedalling a sort of milquetoast socialism-lite that seems to combine maximum righteousness with minimum discomfort for what would appear to be his essentially middle class support base). But I've kind of tried to be fairly objective, possibly even reassuring of friends agonising over whether to pay to vote: Corbyn is definitely going to win, and Labour will still be in a hilariously divided mess in two months' time.

Er, yay!